Vegetable Gardening Tips

Vegetables play an important role in nutrition

We all seem to be trying to eat healthier, more organically, and fresher. Nothing achieves that purpose better than your own home vegetable garden and doubly good if it’s totally organic. The home garden when properly planned and planted will supply a variety of vegetables for use throughout the entire growing season. It is also a rewarding and healthy hobby.

There are books on vegetable gardening, and we will not try to duplicate them here. See subjects like weed control, insecticides, and fertilizing covered in other Expert Advice blog entries. This article will try to highlight thoughtful advice to help in your gardening. It’s all about the soil. For your plants to be as healthy as possible and provide a flavorful and nutritious bounty, the earth has to provide the required nutrients and minerals. The best way to ensure this is to add soil amendments (i.e., compost, humus) to the soil each year, and use an organic fertilizer like Dr. Earth Vegetable Fertilizer.

» Spread lime in your garden at least once a year, every year. Lime will raise or maintain a proper PH and provide calcium and magnesium. Calcium and magnesium help the plants absorb other nutrients, build strong cell walls, help the plant with fruit set, help the plant maintain a greener color, and fight disease. The best time to incorporate lime and soil amendments into your garden is fall. Proper timing will allow for the nutrients to be available right away in spring.

» Do not till clay soil too early in spring as it will clump and dry into hard clumps. Soil with lots of organic matter (compost humus) will warm faster in spring. Also, black plastic placed over the garden will warm the soil quicker so that it will be workable earlier.

» Plan your garden in winter. Plant taller plants (i.e., corn, sunflowers) at one end of the garden and gradually reduce heights to achieve the best use of the sun.

» Plant quick spring crops like radishes, lettuce, and carrots between summer crops like tomatoes and peppers. Early crops can be harvested before they grow too large and shade smaller plants.

» You can plant radishes, beets, cabbage, carrots, lettuce, and onions in early spring as soon as the ground is workable. Planting in early spring will prepare you and your garden well as you wait for May to plant your summer veggies.

» To control weeds, strips of landscape fabric, clean mulch or clean straw between rows will cut down on weeds and help warm soil and reduce disease.

» If you want to control weeds with a granular project and be organic, you can use Jonathan Green Organic Weed Control or Preen Organic Weed Prevention. These products are organic, safe, and effective. Please note that because they are natural, to get good results, you must spread the product liberally and also use it multiple times a season.

» To get a head start on your tomato and pepper season, use plastic Grow It Now Plant Protectors. These plastic caps will allow you to plant 7-14 days before the last frost. Just cover the plants at night or on colder days and remove as daytime temps rise.

» Try growing your cucumbers from seed. They are large, easy to do, and you can pick the variety that best suits your needs. Indoors plant two seeds into a Jiffy pot in early spring. Plant when all danger of frost has passed. Outdoors plant 4- to 12-seeds in a grouping known as a hill. A hill is a small patch of raised soil about 8- to 12-inches in width. Hills allow each plant to have good drainage and stronger roots. The seeds will germinate in about ten days when the seeds are 4-inches high thin to only four plants per hill. To get an early start, plant around May 1st and cover seeds with a plastic plant protector.

» Tomatoes and peppers should be staked or caged. Cages help support the plant and help keep fruit off the ground. Try the glam style cages. These are sold in bright colors and are usually more durable than typical tomato cages. They will last for many years because of their protective coating, and they add color and whimsy to the garden.

» As your tomato plant grows, it is an excellent idea to hill soil around the stem. Tomatoes will grow roots from the stem of the plant to help support the plant’s increasing weight.

» Do not overwater your garden as this will encourage disease. Try to water during the day and avoid very early morning and early evening if possible. Consider using a soaker hose or inexpensive drip system to save and limit wet foliage, thus reducing the risk of disease.

» Try not to do work in the garden early in the morning when the plants are wet with dew as this might spread disease.

» To control slugs and snails, use a shallow tin of beer, covered with a tilted pot over in the garden. They will be attracted to the beer and fall in and drown. A tilted pot will keep the rain out and provide shade drawing slugs and snails.

» To chase away deer and birds, a string line between two stakes with strips of Mylar (from balloons available at the dollar store) attached, will flap and shine in the sun scaring away your garden adversaries.

» To ward off insects, plant plants such as mint, rosemary and French marigolds. These will give off scents that are deterrents to some insects and also draw predatory insects such as ladybugs. 

These are just a few tips to make life more comfortable as you plan this year’s garden. The great thing about gardening is we are always trying new things, continuously learning, and sharing our discoveries with friends and neighbors. So, have a healthy and productive vegetable garden season!

Always remember nothing tastes as good as a vegetable from your garden, as opposed to one from the grocery store. Let Gasper be your vegetable garden headquarters. Gasper has a large variety of everything you need, including:
» cool- and warm-season vegetable plants
» herbs in pots
» many organic varieties to choose from
» organic fertilizers, compost, and soil builders.

Vegetables are an essential part of a healthy diet, and variety is as important as quantity. No single vegetable provides all of the nutrients you need to be healthy. Eat plenty every day.

A diet rich in vegetables and fruits can lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent some types of cancer, lower risk of eye and digestive problems, and have a positive effect on blood sugar, which can help keep appetite in check. Eating non-starchy vegetables and green leafy vegetables may even promote weight loss since their low glycemic loads prevent blood sugar spikes that can increase hunger.

At least nine different families of fruits and vegetables exist, each with potentially hundreds of different plant compounds that are beneficial to health. Eat a variety of colors of produce to give your body the mix of nutrients it needs. Variety not only ensures a diversity of beneficial plant chemicals but also creates attractive meals.

How my son discovered vegetables was from growing them in the garden.

Michael Pollan, Educator